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Great Britain as a Tolerant Nation Regarding Politics and Public Reaction

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Both immigration and societal issues surrounding immigrants themselves have rose to popular discourse within Britain for a significant number of years now (Kudnani, 2007). A large number of citizens and governmental figures have deemed immigration as a nationwide issue in the process (Blinder and Richards, 2020). This outlook will be analyzed to understand to what extent Britain claims itself to be ‘tolerant’ country with regards to immigration (Blinder and Richards, 2020). This essay will further elaborate on this proposal and in turn attempt to define what is meant by ‘tolerant’. After this has been established, the history of both governmental policies and public opinions on the matter will be examined in order assess any support given to the concept that Britain is indeed a ‘tolerant’ nation. Challenges to this claim will be heavily relied upon too. Further factors, such as the archive of racial knowledge, the media and the future of Britain will all be examined in reference to policy and public opinion in order to answer the question if Britain is a ‘tolerant’ country.

Before looking at the history of public and policy responses to immigration the usage of ‘tolerant’ in this context must be established. Typically, to tolerate someone is to accept their behavior or actions even if they disagree with the one’s own (Blinder and Richards, 2020). In relation to immigration, this refers to Britain’s tolerance in hosting various migrants and asylum seekers for several years now. A general attitude has formed amongst public and government for several years now that these exact individuals only bring about negative consequences or issues to country itself. “Tolerance is simultaneously a requirement for inclusion and grounds for exclusion; it is both a self-conscious welcome and veiled threat” (Anderson, 2013, p. 108). What the expression ‘tolerance’ successfully carries out is this hidden warning to its intended audience. The word connotes that society is neither fully barbaric nor fully civilized towards immigrants but rather the word choice leaves the impression that it’s an inconvenience to support and house them (Brown, 2006, cited in Anderson, 2013). However, Anderson (2013) furthers this proposal and suggests that tolerance also indicates an individual’s self-restraint of rationality over emotion. This concept supports the idea that Britain further strengthens itself for tolerating these individuals in this manner. Rather than fully embracing immigrants, tolerating them to a lesser extent highlights the countries strength that it’s more so rational rather than emotional. This mindset has even led some to believe that those migrating to the country are expected to work harder in order to be tolerated (Solomos, 2003). This was highlighted in 2009 when the then minister for Immigration Phil Woolas stated that “if someone is applying to our country, we do think that you should not only obey the law but show you are committed to our country” (Travis 2009, cited in Anderson, 2013, p. 109). This statement not only highlighted Woolas’ own xenophobic opinion but it contrasts with his opinion on already citizens. He noted they should only have to follow the law and have no need to show patriotism (Anderson, 2013). What declared here is a jarring double standard. In order to answer why this standard was set, Britain’s past with immigration and racism must be examined.

The 18th century saw repurposed and reused its racism from the slave trade in order to legitimize the expansion of Empire (Kundnani, 2007). Occurring linear to this was Darwin’s theory of evolution, utilized for the science of eugenics. This process declared lesser breeds to be destined for extinction in the name of progress (Kundnani, 2007). Thus, the concept of racism became widely respected and understandable, it legitimized colonialization and the same attention was applied when immigrants settled here. Britain’s tolerance began to strain towards Chinese groups settling in the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chinese individuals within Britain were being categorized as secretive, sinister beings during this period and dangers surrounding the ‘yellow peril’ began circulating (Kundnani, 2007). Fears of Chinese men corrupting innocent white woman were common during this period with the main concern centered around opium addictions (Kundnani, 2007). In retaliation Government introduced the Alien Restriction (Amendment) Act of 1919 and the Dangerous Drug Act of 1920 which legitimized police raids in Chinese areas within Britain (Kundnani, 2007). Not only did these Acts further stigmatize Chinese citizens in a negative manner but normalized their behavior to be occurrent due to their national identity. Similar policies and acts only further developed the notion that Britain was possibly too tolerant on their immigration system and changes were needed. Yet, shortages of labor after the Second World War saw the Nationality Act of 1948 being enacted where legally individuals from various colonialist countries were allowed move and settle in Britain (Solomos, 2003). However privately the government were looking at methods to discourage black immigrants from settling in the country and tampering with image (Solomos, 2003). Although, the government would deem itself tolerant during this period for accepting EVW’s (European Volunteer Workers) on a temporary year contract. However, immigrants were only allowed to stay past this initial year this if they were deemed a worthy member of community (Solomos, 2003). So, although it was a relatively small-scale migration, the government was attempting to justify their acts in retaliation to their growing tolerance to immigrants. According to Kundnani (2007) these attempts still led to the global idea that Britain was a multicultural state. However, Britain’s political authorities, such as Conservative MP Enoch Powell had the opposing mindset. His work from 1950 onwards aimed at subjugating non-white individuals living in Britain to be racialized as the ‘other’ (Kundnani, 2007). Powell’s infamous speech surrounding this was held on April 20th 1968 and stated that the near future would see black men enslaving white men if attitudes towards immigrants did not change (Kundnani, 2007). Expressing concerns that the country was already too tolerant to immigrants helped circulate public debates and language surrounding the matter. Imagery of violent migrants formed in the public’s consciousness, contributing to an archive of racial knowledge where harmful stereotypical ideas were stored surrounding non-white citizens. Interestingly though Britain’s ‘tolerant’ attitudes created an adverse effect on various immigrants settling in Britain. Many began to view themselves and other non-white citizens as ‘black’, not relating to their physical appearance but rather to form a cohesive front against racism (Kundnani, 2007). This retaliation against oppression was necessary for ethnic minorities to survive and ironically ‘tolerate’ the racist abuse they could face in their daily lives from public.

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Britain’s tolerance towards migrants gained greater traction and importance when it became widespread public discourse. Developing in the late 1950’s, a shared public consciousness led to the protection of the racial character of the English people (Harris, 1988, cited in Solomos, 2003). This sustainability was made necessary through the widening issue of ‘tolerance’ that was now appearing as discourse within political, economic and social life. Ultimately, protecting traditional ideals were deemed necessary in the fight against immigration. To question why public are so bound to one another in regards to oppositions of immigrants can be answered by examining the state formation. As Anderson (2013) explains, the modern state relies on people creating their own communities through contributions surrounding skills, languages and beliefs. What the wider public do not regard themselves as is individuals’ part of a wider coalition only brought together through legal status (Anderson, 2013). This truth is not adopted by the nation state itself, due to it being rooted in a colonial past, meaning emphasis is placed on ‘national identity’ instead. Coinciding with this, public perceptions about immigration tend to center around the ‘imagined immigrant’ which itself is drawn from a vast amount of stereotypes about race, ethnicity, colonial legacies and global inequalities (Blinder, 2015, cited in Keating and Janmaat, 2020, p. 1215). The ‘imagined immigrant’ contributes heavily to the archive of racial knowledge, which itself can be utilized at any time by the white population to bring justification to their racial behavior. Rationalizing racism only further strained tolerance within Britain, creating a further divide between cultures of the white citizen and ‘the other’. This tolerance started to break at several points throughout history, notably when the racialized ‘other’ or ‘black’ individuals’ culture was not wanted to taint out own. This was displayed when black sea men began to settle in towns such as Liverpool or Cardiff in the late 1950’s, where crime was already common due to high rates of poverty (Solomos, 2003). Yet the physical presence of migrants led to regular public debates concerning safety took place with common fears that immigrants will overrun cities in their hordes. However, it has not been until more recently where the identification of migrants has become a widespread common issue (Anderson, 2013). An Ipsos MORI poll conducted monthly asks public what is an important issue facing their nation and found that of those interviewed in 1999 only 5% of people felt immigration race relations was a main issue (Anderson, 2013). Comparing the result with 2007’s poll, 46% of the population felt it was an important issue (Anderson, 2013). This sharp increase in percentage represents the overall decrease of tolerance towards immigrants in more recent years. This ultimate decrease and breakdown of tolerance amongst the general public is present in concerns over every aspect of life. For instance, public housing crisis’s that occurred in the 1970’s and 1980’s in large scale cities saw clashes between immigrants and white Brits occur (Goodhart, 2004). If a family with a child in it were immigrating to Britain during this period, they were given priority over better housing away from areas of deprivation such as East End (Goodhart, 2004). However, this was not well received by white couples who had been on an extended waiting list and as previously mentioned, utilized their archive of racial knowledge to justify verbal abuse towards immigrants. Drawing from this evidence of public responses it can be concluded that a lack of tolerance towards immigrants can be common among the lower social classes of Britain. This is especially prevalent in today’s society amongst the unemployed where it is commonly said immigration strains resources, such as employment, housing and result in more tax payments (Hainmeuller and Hopkins, cited in Keating and Janmaat, 2020, p. 1214). However, there is a lack of evidence that supports the theory that immigrants pose a large economic threat over Britain and rather it is our newfound threat of culture that drives the countries xenophobic attitudes (Keating and Janmaat, 2020). From this, it can be said that publics tolerance towards immigration presents itself in a dwindling state, with a large percentage of the public blaming societal issues on what is regarded as the ‘imagined immigrant’. It is not just policy or governmental figures that influence the public but a factor that has not been examined yet, that being the role of the media. It will be discussed shortly what role the media plays and how it harbors a great influence over the general public’s response to immigration and its effect it has on Britain’s tolerance towards these individuals as a whole.

Before the medias impact on public perceptions can be discussed in detail, the definition of media and its intended purpose within this context need to be examined. According to political commentator Walter Lippman, the media’s strongest skill is the ability to shape ‘pictures in our heads’ (1922, cited in Blinder and Jeannet, 2018, p. 144). As imagined, these pictures shaping in public’s heads are being drawn from their archive of racial knowledge alongside any media content itself being published. According to Blinder and Jeannet (2018) it is a common occurrence for media outlets to spread misinformation or overexaggerate certain bodies of information when including migrants or immigration. These stories succeed in circulating discussions amongst the public and in turn sell more newspaper copies or receive more online article clicks (Blinder and Jeannet, 2018). According to Anderson (2013) this may be a result of the observer effect, where seeing others discussing and worrying over issues leads oneself to become concerned with the matter. So ultimately media outlets discuss immigration as an issue within the general public panic themselves over the listed issues and in turn supports the media outlets that speak against them. This media itself has a massive role regarding tolerance within with the majority of newspapers feeding into nationalism supporting the concept that the country is too tolerant towards migrants. This can be seen when examining a recent article by ‘The Sun’, discussing the border issue. Paul Lincoln outgoing head of Border Force stated that borders are of great inconvenience and instead should look at one another as human beings (Murray, 2021). Lincoln, in expressing his disagreement with the debates surrounding migrants ultimately disagreed too with the concept that Britain is too tolerant a nation. Rather Lincoln held that view of the opposing side while Murray (2021) from ‘The Sun’ expressed his disgust with the response. Murray (2021) perpetuated the idea that Britain could not function as a nation state with millions of migrants coming over to. Claiming that “If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country” (Murray, 2021). Statements similar to this one and arguments from similar viewpoints continually generate the idea that Britain as a whole should no longer tolerate immigrants and the general public will not allow for this to pass. However strikingly, Murray (2021) gives no factual evidence to how or why the country would not be able to cope with migrants settling here but rather chooses to continue with vague language surrounding the subject matter. Ultimately this language can influence the public’s personal and intimate thoughts on immigration and whether or not they too should continue to be ‘tolerant’.

Contrastingly though, the ‘tolerance’ that Britain has towards immigrants is said to becoming less an important factor to the younger generation of today (Keating and Janmaat, 2020). It was said the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit Referendum highlighted new discussions surrounding the modern ‘cosmopolitan’ generation of today and how statistically newer generations were showing more acceptance. Keating and Janmaat’s (2020) work was set out to explore this concept but rather with reference to younger Brit’s who are not in favor of immigration. Data extracted from a 2014 cross sectional survey amongst young people noted that over 50% of participants agreed those not born in Britain deserve the same rights as everyone else. This highlights there has in fact been a change of attitude amongst the younger generation within recent years. This suggests that there may no longer be a great pressure asserted on individuals regarding their tolerance towards immigrants, but rather a universal view of just accepting them for who they are. However, there is visible restraints to this acceptance of diversity amongst some youth. The survey found 20% of respondents would be bothered ‘a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ if their neighbors were immigrants (Keating and Janmaat, 2020). So, although some progress has been made in recent years among the younger generation there is still an underlying feeling of xenophobia present in society. This emotion can usually be erected through cultural norms that are not traditionally or represent Britain in its idealized pure white form which again leads back to the concept that Britain is too tolerant a nation.

In conclusion, it can be said there is multiple factors, influences and causes of why Britain regards itself as a ‘tolerant’ nation towards immigration. Such influences are drawn from Britain’s colonial past where it was festered in racism that translated its way into 20th and 21st century life. These colonial influences gave way to the idea that those migrating to Britain would tamper with their pure image, a matter that just cannot occur. This tolerance can be met with violence.

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Great Britain as a Tolerant Nation Regarding Politics and Public Reaction. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from
“Great Britain as a Tolerant Nation Regarding Politics and Public Reaction.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023,
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